Concepts familiar from grade-school algebra have broad ramifications in computer science.
Larry Wall, a programmer and creator of Perl and several widely used software programs, received the first annual Free Software Foundation (FSF) Award for the Advancement of Free Software at the Media Lab on October 9.
Among the attendees at the award presentation and reception in Bartos Theater, hosted by Gerald Sussman, the Matsushita Professor of Electrical Engineering at MIT, were registrants for a conference sponsored by Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility.
Mr. Wall won the award for his contributions to the advancement of freely distributed software, most notably Perl, the most popular language for processing information collected at web pages. His other widely used programs include RN (news reader), Patch (development and distribution tool), Metaconfig (a program that writes Configure scripts), and the Warp space-war game.
FSF founder and president Richard Stallman, an Artificial Intelligence Laboratory research affiliate, founder of the GNU Project based at the AI Lab and recipient of a MacArthur "genius" grant, presented the award. Professor Hal Abelson, the Class of 1922 Professor in electrical engineering and computer science, and Leonard H. Tower Jr. (SB 1971, biology) also received special awards in recognition of being founding board members of the FSF.
The FSF is a not-for-profit organization that works for freedom to copy, modify and redistribute computer programs. Awards coordinator Timothy Ney, an officer of the FSF, said he initiated the awards ceremony to recognize people who have made "a signficant contribution to the advancement of freely distributed software and to provide a forum in which to celebrate such accomplishments in the field."
More than 100 individuals and teams were nominated for the award. One of the 10 finalists was Tim Berners-Lee, a principal research scientist at the Laboratory for Computer Science and creator of the World Wide Web.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on October 28, 1998.